Feminism: The Problem or the Answer?

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article called “The War Against Girls”. While it deals with the selective abortion of girls in third world countries, some of the issues involved are very pertinent to discussions of patriarchy and feminism. Here are some excerpts from the article:

Mara Hvistendahl is worried about girls. Not in any political, moral or cultural sense but as an existential matter. She is right to be. In China, India and numerous other countries (both developing and developed), there are many more men than women, the result of systematic campaigns against baby girls. In “Unnatural Selection,” Ms. Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance: what it is, how it came to be and what it means for the future.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that’s as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.

Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115,  Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

What is causing the skewed ratio: abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl’s counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence.

Late in “Unnatural Selection,” Ms. Hvistendahl makes some suggestions as to how such “abuse” might be curbed without infringing on a woman’s right to have an abortion. In attempting to serve these two diametrically opposed ideas, she proposes banning the common practice of revealing the sex of a baby to parents during ultrasound testing. And not just ban it, but have rigorous government enforcement, which would include nationwide sting operations designed to send doctors and ultrasound techs and nurses who reveal the sex of babies to jail. Beyond the police surveillance of obstetrics facilities, doctors would be required to “investigate women carrying female fetuses more thoroughly” when they request abortions, in order to ensure that their motives are not illegal.

Such a regime borders on the absurd. It is neither feasible nor tolerable—nor efficacious: Sex determination has been against the law in both China and India for years, to no effect. I suspect that Ms. Hvistendahl’s counter-argument would be that China and India do not enforce their laws rigorously enough.

Despite the author’s intentions, “Unnatural Selection” might be one of the most consequential books ever written in the campaign against abortion. It is aimed, like a heat-seeking missile, against the entire intellectual framework of “choice.” For if “choice” is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against “gendercide.” Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother’s “mental health” requires it. Choice is choice. One Indian abortionist tells Ms. Hvistendahl: “I have patients who come and say ‘I want to abort because if this baby is born it will be a Gemini, but I want a Libra.’”

This is where choice leads. This is where choice has already led. Ms. Hvistendahl may wish the matter otherwise, but there are only two alternatives: Restrict abortion or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it.”

Ladies Against Feminism has posted this article as an example of the evils of feminism destroying women. Over and over again, Christian Patriarchy groups like Ladies Against Feminism have argued that feminism is the root of all that is wrong with our society. Hedonism? Blame feminism. Broken families? Blame feminism. Decreasing wages? Blame feminism. And here they go again. It’s so typical for them. Except the weird thing is that in this case feminism is not simply not the problem, it’s actually the solution. And yet somehow, not even the author of this Wall Street Journal article and the author of the book he reviews could see that.  

Banning ultrasound techs from revealing a baby’s sex or banning abortion are not the answers to this problem (and both would lead to heavy black markets anyway). Why? Because the problem is not abortion. The problem is cultural norms that value boys over girls. Banning abortions or banning women from learning the sex of the child only deals with the symptom of the problem, not its cause. You want to fix “gendericide”? Let me tell you how! Feminism! Make women in these developing countries the equals of men, and you would see “gendericide” disappear! The authors of Ladies Against Feminism apparently cannot see that the Patriarchy they endorse is actually the cause of this problem and the feminism they condemn is the solution. 

I’m not the only one saying this, either: An article last year in the European magazine The Economist, titled “The War on Baby Girls: Gendercide,” made my very point. The article first examined the reasons families prefer boys, something the Wall Street Journal article did not do:

IMAGINE you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard physical labour is still needed for the family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old. Perhaps she needs a dowry.

You see, that is the problem. The laws saying only sons may inherit, the practice of selling daughters to another family for a dowry – it is these things that are the problem. Fortunately, the Economist article saw that, and finished by pointing to the solution (hint: NOT banning abortion):

And all countries need to raise the value of girls. They should encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life—using everything from television newsreaders to women traffic police.

The answer is not to ban abortion or restrict access to ultrasounds. The answer is not to blame feminism. The answer is to raise the value of girls. If China or India is worried about a gender imbalance, they need to start changing the laws and working to change cultural norms. If women are worried about “gendercide” in developing countries, they need to get out there and start a feminist revolution. You hear that Ladies Against Feminism? The problem is not feminism – the answer is feminism. And that is how to end “gendercide” in developing nations.   

I really think, though, that this spells out the biggest difference between how Christian Patriarchy views the world and how I view the world: Ladies Against Feminism and their ilk see feminism as the problem while I see feminism as the answer. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.